My proposal for a referendum on Europe’s future

David Owen
IF THE German people are persuaded by their politicians to continue funding the Eurozone, based on much greater integration, many existing EU member states will swallow concerns about undue austerity. But the UK will have a choice to make.

Britain must not remain passive any longer – this is our EU by treaty. It is not pedantic to insist it can only legally be changed by unanimity. So the UK must now start to champion a credible, but different, design to set alongside other reforms. Politicians must have the determination to stay at the negotiating table until there is unanimity. No walk-outs, just quiet persistence. Where the UK can act with others, so much the better, but Britain must have the confidence to set out its design for Europe – a wider Europe and a deeper Europe, living alongside and in harmony with each other.

Turkey deserves to be involved in this single market restructuring; so do the European Economic Area (EEA) countries, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The EEA was set to have Switzerland as a member, but a referendum on joining returned a “no” vote. However, that has been largely circumvented and Switzerland is in fact closely associated.

The setting up of the EEA on 1 January 1994, as the then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, claimed, marked a further step in the long-standing process of rapprochement between the European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. The EEA, however, is a hand-me-down structure from the EU. It has to change and be funded and controlled by all its members. It should have the existing acquis communitaire, qualified majority voting and a single negotiator for world trade.

My e-book, Europe Restructured?, provides a description of a transformed EEA, which includes Turkey. Turkey already has a customs union with the EU. The ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party, AKP, was first elected in 2002 and was re-elected for a third time in June 2011. It is a recognisable European political party. In economic and industrial performance, Turkey has become a mainstream European country.

A UK referendum on Europe is inevitable. It will need to take place between 2013 and 2016, depending on how soon Eurozone integration takes place and I think the people of this country should be asked two questions:

1. Do you want the UK to be a part of the single market in a wider European Community? Yes/No

2. Do you want the UK to remain in the European Union, keeping open the option of joining the integrated Eurozone? Yes/No

It’s time for the British people and politicians to punch their weight.

Lord Owen is a cross-bench peer. He is a former Labour Party foreign secretary and was chairman of New Europe from 1999-2005, campaigning against the UK adopting the euro.